Hair dye allergy: causes, symptoms and treatments

An allergy to hair dye can be mild, but it is also severe, although it is rare. However, if there is, it may be life-threatening. It is best to use these types of products with caution.

Last update: June 13, 2021

Allergy to hair dye seems to have increased worldwide. In reality, the allergic reaction does not occur against the dye as such, but one of its components. These types of products contain several substances with this potential.

Hair dye allergy is a reaction of the immune system. In most cases it causes allergic contact dermatitis. However, the effect can be much more serious, to the point of being life-threatening.

In any case, it is important to differentiate allergy to hair dye from sensitivity to that product. The allergic reaction causes a number of symptoms that may require immediate medical attention. The sensitivity only causes mild itching or burning and perhaps slight redness of the skin.

What Causes Hair Dye Allergy?

Hair dye allergy usually has mild symptoms. In case of fainting or extreme irritation, a doctor should be consulted.

In most cases, the substance that causes an allergy to hair dye is para-phenylenediamine (PPD).. It comes in the colorant that when mixed with peroxide is partially oxidized. In this state it is more likely to trigger the allergy.

PPD sometimes goes by other names such as 'PPDA', '1,4-Benzenediamine' and 'Phenylenediamine base'. However, it is not the only component that causes allergy to hair dye. Another chemical that causes an allergic reaction in many people is para-toluenediamine (PTD).

Other substances that are present in some dyes and that can cause this type of reaction are the following:

  • Cobalt.
  • Glyceryl thioglycolate.
  • Ammonia.
  • Peroxide.
  • Resorcinol.

What are the symptoms?

Hair dye allergy can cause mild or severe symptoms. When there is only slight itching, burning and irritation, it is not an allergic reaction, but a manifestation of sensitivity to the product.

The allergy includes the following symptoms:

  • Contact dermatitis. There is a red, scaly, itchy rash. It appears in all areas that have come into contact with the dye; that is, the scalp and, in general, the contour of the face, ears and neck.
  • Eruptions. It is rare that they occur on the scalp. However, they can be noticed in any other area of ​​the body.

These symptoms can appear up to 48 hours after applying the product.. Severe cases of allergy to hair dye present the following manifestations:

  • Facial swelling. There is swelling in the eyelids, lips, and face in general. It can also appear on the hands or feet.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fainting.

Also read: How to treat scalp irritation?

The severe allergic reaction can lead to a shock anaphylactic, or "anaphylaxis," in a matter of minutes. This is a delicate, life-threatening condition and is approached as a medical emergency.

How should you act?

If mild symptoms occur, it is possible to manage allergy to hair dye with the following measures:

  • Rinse hair with plenty of water and a mild shampoo. The goal is to remove excess dye.
  • Apply a mild moisturizer to the affected areas.
  • Symptoms of contact dermatitis can be reduced with an over-the-counter topical cream that contains corticosteroids.
  • Use dilute potassium permanganate. This substance helps to oxidize PPD; this substance only causes allergy if it is partially oxidized.
  • Hydrogen peroxide. It is a mild antiseptic that helps relieve itching and skin irritation.

If symptoms don't go away after a few hours, or if symptoms of a severe allergy appear, the best thing to do is go to the emergency room to receive the treatment of the case.

How can it be prevented?

The allergic test is the best way to prevent this pathology.

A person can develop an allergy to hair dye at any time, even if they have used this product before. So, it is always advisable to do the allergy test before using the coloring.

It is enough to prepare a little of the dye mixture with the developer. With a cotton ball, apply behind the ear and cover the area. Wait 24 hours and if there is no reaction, it is safe to apply the product. The same operation can be done on the wrist.

It is very important to follow the instructions for using the product to the letter. There are also some measures that can help, such as the following:

  • Use dyes that do not contain PPD or any of the potentially allergic substances.
  • Emulsify the dye well before removing it.
  • Apply plenty of water to the root, when removing the dye. Do it for at least two minutes. Then continue with the rest of the hair.
  • Washing hair with a non-detergent-based shampoo, after removing the dye completely.
  • Use lukewarm water, colder than hot.

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What alternatives are there?

There are several products that represent an alternative to traditional dye. These are options that do not contain the chemicals that cause allergic reactions. They tend to offer good results and the most important thing is that they are safer for your health.

Some of the alternatives are the following:

  • Hypoallergenic dyes. They do not contain the most allergy-inducing chemicals. They are usually semi-permanent, but the finish is very similar to that of conventional dye.
  • Henna. It is a natural coloring. However, it is important to verify that it does not contain PPD, but that it is vegetable and genuine. Provides a reddish or mahogany tone.
  • Use natural colorants. There are several substances that give a natural color to the hair. Although its use is more expensive, the result is excellent. Chamomile, walnut shell, and other vegetables fall into this group.

Some semi-permanent dyes may contain lead or other hazardous elements. If there are doubts, it is best to consult with the dermatologist.

Dyeing your hair with natural products: the best option

Hair coloring is a common practice for many women. However, it should never be overlooked that at any time in life it is possible to develop an allergy to hair dye. Therefore, the allergy test should never be skipped.

Alternative methods have limitations in terms of color gamut, permanence, or practicality in use. However, not only protect against an allergic reaction, but also preserve capillary health in the long term and result in more beautiful hair.

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